“Com tam” is the Vietnamese word refers to the kind of rice made of broken rice grains. Initially, it was considered as “rice for the poor” as it was the left-over after farmers sold the intact grains and eventually it become the popular rice for the unwealthy class. But over years, the Saigonese became rather fond of the broken rice grains and today, its eaten all around Ho Chi Minh City. Com Tam Sai Gon (Saigon-style broken rice) is usually served with a caramelized pork chop, a bed of pickled vegetables, steamed egg (also called cha trung) and garlic chive oil.
The classic broken rice dish has taken pride in the daily menu of Saigonese for decades. With its peculiar taste and scent, broken rice has long been considered a favorite by people of all ages and economic backgrounds in Saigon, and only in this city can its true flavor be found.
Back then, com tam was just a dish consisting of rice, spicy sauce and oily onions.
But somehow, the dish made it to roadside dining places, food stalls at local markets, fancy restaurants, beyond the southern city, and even overseas.
You could eat broken rice with just about any Vietnamese food you like such as suon (grilled pork), bi (long slices of seasoned pork skin), trung (one or two omelets), and cha (meatloaf with egg yolk, mushroom, bean, meat and seasoning, sliced into small bars).
The spicy sauce adds not only to the aroma of the well-grilled pork and the smell of oily onions that are served along with the rice, but it also adds to the stiffness of the broken rice, creating a mixture of harmony, yet distinct with varied flavors.
To vary the taste, the plate is accompanied by tomato and cucumber slices, some sour vegetable stripes, or by a small bowl of vegetable soup.
There might be thousands of great foods out there for the Saigonese living in a city blossoming with domestic and international cuisine, but at the back of their minds, they know well com tam is on the top list.
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